Direct mail lives online but email needs refining

Against all odds – postal strikes, technological advancements, environmental concerns and the economic downturn – direct mail retains its appeal to executives and marketers alike.

Or so say the several hundred marketers who told Marketing Week that direct mail continues to have the ear of the board (56% of those polled attested to this), and the significant minority (7%) who say the recession has had no effect, or the small number (5%) that said that the economic downturn has had a “very bad” effect.

Explanations for the channel’s stoic resilience offered by those participating included: “It still provides one of the highest returns on investment when carried out in a targeted and controlled way”, and “….in terms of offering measurability of campaign and marketing spend effectiveness, to my mind it is second to none as a channel for customer acquisition.”

The Marketing Week poll also provided a glimpse of changing dynamics within the sector, with 45% of people using interactive direct marketing methods, bettering the third (33%) using physical direct mail.

More research last week, this time from the Direct Marketing Association, also hinted at a changing landscape. In its National Client Email Survey report, the DMA found that seven out of ten marketers expect expenditure on email marketing to increase over the next 12 months.

Do the respective results signal a sea change in direct mail practices?

One respondent to the Marketing Week poll offered an answer: “Mail-based physical DM is under severe threat from interactive and web-based methods. Throw in the uncertainty of postal services in the UK and my 2010 plan will start to see less and less reliance on physical means.”

There is little doubt that direct marketers will increasingly make use of online communication in the coming decade, if only to circumvent potentially crippling postal strikes, often in tandem with physical mail.

However, the DMA research also suggests that direct marketers are not yet fully conversant with this digital route. Only a quarter of marketers are able to calculate the value of an email address, while 12% of respondents do not know how many emails an address should receive each month.

It could be that accountability and best practice have yet to catch up with intention, an issue that could well alienate customers before email marketing has truly found its feet.

As Richard Gibson, chair of the DMA email marketing council benchmarking hub, puts it: “Without the correct best practice and evaluation measures in place, these companies risk alienating customers by over-mailing which can, in turn, lead to deliverability issues.”

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